May 14, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript May 14
May 14, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by CEA Chair Cecilia Rouse. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
Previously served as a member of the council of economic advisors in the Obama Biden administration, I had the pleasure of working with her. And on the national economic council in the Clinton administration. She’s the first African-American and just the fourth woman to lead the CEA in the 74 years of its existence. She has a very busy day, as we all do, a lot going on here, but she’ll take it just a couple of questions when she wraps up and I’m so happy I don’t have to put my mask back on. Okay, come on over.
Cecilia Rouse: (00:24)
Great. Thank you. Hello. So this past year we’ve been living through a once in a 100 years pandemic, or at least that’s what we certainly hope. The speed with which we powered down the economy was unprecedented. And while we have suffered and lost much over the past year, the efficiency and speed with which we have rolled out the vaccinations, even surpassing President Biden’s own initial, and I might say, ambitious goals has meant that the United States has made tremendous progress at curving the virus. As a result, we in the midst of restarting this economy in earnest and we’re making good progress in doing so. However, we must keep in mind that an economy will not heal instantaneously. It takes several weeks for people to get full immunity from vaccinations and even more time for those left jobless from the pandemic to find and start a suitable job.
Cecilia Rouse: (01:17)
Supply trains have been disrupted and sectors that were hardest hit are just beginning to come back. I will also note that given the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, it will remain difficult for analysts to accurately forecast economic data until we have more fully recovered. For example, in just one day, we now anticipate an oversupply of masks and an under supply of lipstick. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s what I thought of this morning. In all seriousness, different sectors of the economy will come back online at different times and at different paces. And while the actual economy will likely change from week to week, reported data will lag the process. As a result, as the economy recovers, there will be data that come in below expectations and data that will come in above expectations. We saw that this week with the CPI and last week with the jobs report. Today’s report on retail sales in April came in softer than most expected after a large increase last month. At moments like this, it is important to focus on trends and not month to month or week to week oscillations.
Cecilia Rouse: (02:23)
In that vein, we know that the initial estimate for first quarter GDP was 6.4%, outpacing growth in the Eurozone and employment has grown an average of 500,000 jobs per month since January. Even while the overall trend in the economy is positive, the administration is working to help displace workers with their searches so that they can find good suitable work. And as the President emphasized earlier this week, if offered a suitable job, a worker receiving unemployment benefits must take it. We’re also emphasizing to employers that there are resources to help them hire workers part-time without those workers losing their unemployment benefits through short time compensation. And we’re reminding employers of the extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan. While it is important we continue to support workers, families, and businesses until the virus is more robustly contained. We also recognize the imperative of supporting the healing of our labor market.
Cecilia Rouse: (03:19)
In the meantime, we know that the mismatch between different parts of the economy will show up in unexpected ways until the economy more fully recovers. As the president or earlier this week, we must be patient. At the same time, we cannot forget that the longer term structural problems our economy faces as well. The Council of Economic Advisors released an issue brief just yesterday on the economic framework underlying the American Jobs Plan and the American Family’s Plan. Addressing these structural issues is so important to ensuring a strong economic future for our country and that’s why I’m so incredibly proud to be a member of the American Family’s Plan cabinet, which was the original reason for me to be here today. And so I am now happy to take a few questions.
Jen Psaki: (04:03)
All right, Nancy, kick us off.
Thank you so much, Cecilia. I hear what you’re saying about the fact that the economic numbers are going to be kind of unpredictable right now, but what did you make of the jump in consumer prices last month? The largest hikes since 2008?
Cecilia Rouse: (04:18)
Yes. I mean, that’s obviously an important question. It was interesting to me that even the federal reserve was a bit surprised by the jump. So we hadn’t forecasted that, forecasters hadn’t expected that. But if you dig below the surface, what you see is, for example 30% of that increase was in the used car sales market. And we know that there are supply chain issues there with the semi-conductors. And if you think about getting back and healing markets, we know that rental car companies are buying, they have to replenish their socks because they liquidated their stocks last year when people were not renting cars. We know that because of the American Rescue Plan, people were buying cars because many people were afraid of taking public transit, which is not good either. But instead of taking public transit, they wanted to buy new cars, but with the shortage and the semi-conductor supply change, the supply just wasn’t meeting demand. So that’s where a big part of the jump was.
Cecilia Rouse: (05:10)
Another part was in those sectors that were really hit by the virus, we saw some of them are starting to come back. The most vivid example that we found was in the airline industry, where we saw a 10% increase in their prices month to month. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I know lots… I’m working here so I don’t get time to do this, but other people I know are looking forward to taking time off of the summer and they’re buying airplane tickets. So there was a 10% increase in airline tickets, but it’s still 20% below where it was before the pandemic. So those prices are increasing because we were unusual lows because of the pandemic, they are rebounding as the economy starts to heal. But many of those sectors are actually not even back to where they were before. So we expect there’s going to a period, as supply starts equal demand and sectors are healing and recovering that there’s going to be some choppiness.
Even if that’s the case. At what point does concern about inflation become its own economic problem?
Cecilia Rouse: (06:13)
This is really the purview of the federal reserve and we try to maintain their independence, but what economists worry about is when inflation becomes de-anchored. And so at the moment, it looks as though people fully expect this inflation to be temporary, where temporary is when the economy more fully recovers. But that we understand that they’re not sort of structural factors that should lead to on inflation that the federal reserve can not control.
Jen Psaki: (06:41)
I was wondering if I could follow on that a little bit. There seems to be this assumption that we’ve heard from people within the administration that this inflation that is temporary, that we’ll get through the choppiness by the end of the year. And I’m wondering what you’re seeing in the data that suggests that’s true. Is it just sort of hopeful guesses based on coming out of the pandemic or are you actually seeing something that doesn’t lead to that worst case scenario?
Cecilia Rouse: (07:08)
So, as I just gave an example, much of the increase last month was an airline prices. So airline prices ticked up because they had completely cratered last year this time. There’s been a robust increase month to month, but they are still not even close to where they were this time last year. So clearly the airline industry’s recovering. I do not expect those prices to continue past where they were last year, because at some point people will stop. I don’t think people take multiple vacations, but I think many people have been cooped up in their houses and they would like to travel. And so we’re seeing increased demand in the airline industry. So let’s take the auto sector, which accounted for a third of that increase. Again, I expect that to be one time.
Cecilia Rouse: (07:56)
So there’s going to be this kind of misalignment and that’s what happens in economics, prices are signals, they signal when something is in short supply, when something’s over supply. And I fully expect that that will work itself out in the coming months.
Right. I mean, Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment survey came out today much lower than expected, which indicates that people might be fearful that this is a trend beyond just, okay yeah we’re all buying plane tickets for the first time or there’s one sector of the economy. So I guess I’m curious, are you really just chalking it up to these initial stumbles or do you believe that there’s this [crosstalk 00:08:35]-
Cecilia Rouse: (08:34)
This was an unprecedented economic downturn. I don’t know about your lifetimes, I think I may be older than most of you. We have not had, first of all the pandemic, so where we completely powered down the economy and therefore we’ve never had a recession that was not tied to a problem in the economy but that was tied to a health problem. And so there’s even uncertainty about the recovery because our recovery is hitched to the virus. We are making fabulous progress in this country in terms of controlling the virus. But I’d like to remind you that only 58% of adults have had one shot, at least one shot. But if we actually drill down, if we’re going to take the example of the labor market, only a quarter of those who are age 18 to 29 are fully vaccinated. And only a third of those aged, 30 to 39 are fully vaccinated. We aren’t just not to the other side of this yet. So obviously, we sincerely don’t want to see our economy end up in a hyperinflation of some kind, but it’s just too early to be drawing that conclusion when we consider the depth and the nature of the economic recession. We are still 8 million jobs down from where we were this time last year, we have a long way to go.
Jen Psaki: (09:53)
So you talked about these areas where there’s these little pockets of supply demand mismatch in the economy. I think others have talked about lumber and just kind of random areas within the economy. Have you done any analysis of whether tariff reduction would be helpful in some of those areas?
Cecilia Rouse: (10:14)
Our international trade policy is part of the longer-term economic plan and I know that our trade representatives are looking at all of those factors. But let’s face it, the pandemic, we all hope to be on the other side of the pandemic next year. There may be some tailwinds just because, again, this was unprecedented. Trade policy is a much bigger issue and that needs to be worked out in the context of our global partners and as part of having a really well running and efficient global economy.
Does inflation create a bit more of an argument for deficit reduction as you go forward and start looking at kind of your budget planning and whether there needs to be a change in how much debt the government is taking on as it spends into the economy?
Cecilia Rouse: (11:02)
The expenditures over the past year, because of the pandemic, most recently with American Rescue Plan, were all deficit finance and because we were in a a complete emergency. And it was the right thing to do, it was the right way for us to get the economy back on track. Let’s remember that our ability to deal with the debt is not just a factor of the level of debt, but it has to do with the size of the economy. In order to keep the denominator, the size of the economy, larger we needed to be supporting families and businesses and keeping that activity going to the extent it could.
Cecilia Rouse: (11:37)
The American Jobs Plan and the American Rescue Plan are longer-term investments, they’re designed to be paid out over 8 to 10 years. And the President has put on the table ways to raise revenue to pay for them, and they will be fully paid for over 15 years. So those investments and those really important programs are not premise on the idea of further deficit reduction. In fact, their premise on having adequate revenue to fund the government so the government can partner with the private sector and make these really important investments.
Is that a red line, it needs to be paid for?
Cecilia Rouse: (12:10)
So the president has put forth robust plans to raise revenue in order to fund these important investments.
Jen Psaki: (12:18)
[inaudible 00:12:18] that’d be the last one.
Speaker 2: (12:21)
Can I ask kind of a broad approach question. I think a lot of us have been pouring over the BLS report the last week, trying to divine some type of meaning from things. Which I don’t think is easy, particularly in that case, but given your expertise in this area. Do you feel like it’s an indication that normal is just going to be very different in labor markets, whenever there is a full recovery? That people are making different decisions based on the last year, people are looking for different kinds of jobs based on the last year and our expectation of what a labor market looks like will be very different post pandemic than it was pre pandemic?
Cecilia Rouse: (12:51)
So I try not to read too much in any one month. I think I started with that point. I think there are many reasons to believe and to understand why we don’t like to do that. For example, if you were drilling down on that report you know that the reference week was the week of April 12th. That was the week before all adults became eligible for a vaccination, that was week before. And then we know it takes five to six weeks for people to become, if they get the Pfizer, Moderna, become fully vaccinated. Getting into the details, it was, I think, Easter happened in March this year, the seasonal adjustments are a little funny within the BLS report. Oh, and viral loads were increasing, at least in parts of the country in that period of time as well.
Cecilia Rouse: (13:42)
So I think it’s really important not to read too much into that one report. If we look over the last three months or three months before that, we know that employment was rising. Do we expect there may be some sectoral reallocation as a result of the pandemic? Probably. We probably expect we’ve accelerated a bit more into remote kinds of employment and activities. But we also know that it’s important that we make investments where we address, for example, the existential threat of climate change. We know this country needs to be making those kinds of investments. We know that we need to be making investments in infrastructure. We seem to be reminded of that almost on a monthly basis, that this country has really great infrastructure need. So we know that there are a lot of fundamental jobs. If we think about care, our population is aging and it’s important that we have people who can take care of our older people and have good quality home care workers. So we know that there are many jobs, which are not going to go away and which are going to be very important as in order for us to go forward.
Speaker 2: (14:46)
Just one, real quick one, do you think employers should be considering paying their employees more now as one of the solutions to the 8.1 million open jobs that currently exist?
Cecilia Rouse: (14:55)
So the way that in our capitalist system, so the way that a market economy works is we work through prices as a signal. And so wages are the price-
Cecilia Rouse: (15:03)
… we work through prices as a signal. And so, wages are the price that we work in the labor market, so that would be the natural way for employers to try to attract employees. Again, we’re not through this pandemic. Many of those, especially essential workers their jobs are not risk free, right? They’ve become a little riskier. And so, if employers have to pay a little bit more to compensate those employees take on that risk, I think that’s appropriate, again, in a market economy where that’s the currency.
Jen Psaki: (15:31)
Thanks so much for join- …
[crosstalk 00:15:32]? I promise I won’t mention Larry Summers. You mentioned UI, right?
Jen Psaki: (15:35)
Quite an introduction.
Cecilia Rouse: (15:35)
I know, right?
Jen Psaki: (15:39)
But I just want to understand the white house’s position on the enhanced UI. Is it the white house’s position to enhance the payments for unemployment insurance isn’t having any effect on the supply side of labor markets?
Cecilia Rouse: (15:52)
So I will tell you what I think. This is our position is that the decision to enter the labor market is very complicated right now. That the primary determinants for people to make that decision are is there a suitable job available? What’s the status of the virus? What are the health considerations and what are the care considerations? The President has emphasized that if a worker is offered a suitable job, they must take it if they’re on unemployment insurance benefits. We recognize we’re in an unprecedented recession, that we have a long way to go and we want to be in the position of helping employers understand how they can be bringing back employees part-time, which is going to be the suitable way for more employers to bring back more workers.
Cecilia Rouse: (16:37)
They can’t go from 0 to 100 just overnight. Through short time compensation, reminding employers that there’s the employer retention tax credit. And so, we recognize that right now, most of those who are working age are not fully vaccinated. It’s going to take time. But workers, as they become fully vaccinated, as the economy starts to open up, we’re expecting that they will be looking for suitable jobs and they will be finding them and we will get back to normalcy sooner than later.
But UI is or is not a factor for supply side on the labor market?
Cecilia Rouse: (17:13)
So there are many factors that go into whether a person is taking a job, right? If somebody is not fully vaccinated, if there’s still a lot of COVID in their area, if they have still childcare constraints, there are many factors that this pandemic has caused that are going to play into people’s decision ability to go back to work. UI has served a very important role through this pandemic. It has allowed people to pay the rent, which as we know, is very important for the landlord. It’s allowed people to put food on the table, which is important for them and their families. And so, we stand behind that those are very important support. They’re supports to help us bridge to the end of this pandemic. So we believe that it’s complicated, but that the labor market will be healing. And we are standing at the ready and we want to that to happen as quickly as safely possible.
Jen Psaki: (18:02)
All right. Thank you so much for joining us.
Cecilia Rouse: (18:04)
Jen Psaki: (18:06)
Okay. Just a couple of items for you at the top. A quick preview of the week ahead. We have some travel next week. On Tuesday, as we’ve announced, the President will travel to Dearborn, Michigan to visit the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center. As Ford has said, they will preview for him the new F150 Lightning, which will be built by UAW workers. On Wednesday, he will travel to New London, Connecticut, where he will deliver the keynote address at the Coast Guard Academy’s 140th commencement exercises. And on Friday, he will welcome his excellency Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea to the white house. President Moon’s visit will highlight the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea and the broad and deep ties between our governments, people, and economies.
Jen Psaki: (18:56)
A brief update on the Colonial Pipeline. The President outlined just yesterday, since the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline last Friday, we’ve had a whole of government response across the administration to help get the pipeline back online and mitigate any supply shortages. As a part of that, last night, the Department of Homeland Security announced a second targeted and temporary Jones Act waiver to give us additional tools to get fuel to affected communities. This follows an initial Jones Act waiver Wednesday night, steps that the Department of Transportation took to ease the transport of fuel overlord, overlord? Over land, over land and waivers from the EPA that have collectively added the equivalent of 5 million tanks to the effected regions tank gas supply. In addition to other actions, of course, we’ve taken across the federal government.
Jen Psaki: (19:45)
With the announcement yesterday, that service has been restored to all markets they serve by Colonial Pipeline, we know that supply is returning and that the end is in sight. And the actions that DOT and EPA are taking will speed up the process of getting gas from the pipeline to stations, which is of course, of interest, great interest to the American people, especially in the impacted regions. And we want to remind the public that it will take a few days to fully return to normal. We urge people in affected regions to only buy the gas they need so that we can help speed up the process. Our current expectation based on the conversations between the company and experts at the department of energy is that the vast majority of markets in affected regions are receiving fuel at gas stations for consumers, and will continue to receive more fuel throughout the weekend and into early next week. Hence, getting us closer to return us back to normal. With that, Jonathan, why don’t you kick us off?
Thank you, Jen. On infrastructure and negotiations.
Jen Psaki: (20:42)
You said yesterday that the only red line, a term I know you don’t like, for the President was inaction. Previously, the President had pledged that he is not going to raise taxes on any Americans who are making less than $400,000 a year, is that pledge still a red line or is that changed?
Jen Psaki: (20:57)
That is still a red line.
Okay. And would, as a followup to that, would raising fees or an increase in the gas tax, which is being discussed in negotiations. Would that violate that pledge? Can the administration promise that people making less than $400,000 will not face an increase in fees?
Jen Psaki: (21:14)
The President’s pledge and his commitment, his line in the sand, his red line, whatever you want to call it is that he will not raise taxes for people making less than $400,000 a year. User fees that have been proposed out there would violate that.
Okay. And then on a second matter on Israel. The President yesterday said that he had not seen a, “Significant overreaction in Israel’s response.” Since then, Israel has increased its rocket strikes and mass troops at the Gaza border. What in the President’s estimation would be an overreaction?
Jen Psaki: (21:48)
Well, look, let me first say that our objective from this administration, from the President, from our entire national security team is to work toward deescalation, to work toward a lasting peace. And that is what the focus of every conversation we are having from the level of the President on down and many conversations that are happening with leaders in the region, Palestinian leaders, Israeli leaders, Egyptians, Tunisians, many who can be influential on Hamas. So obviously, we are watching this closely. We will remain closely engaged. A lot of conversations we have may happen behind the scenes because that may be the most appropriate way to deescalate the situation on the ground.
[inaudible 00:22:28]. So what the President has seen so far from Israel, still, he believes is not a significant overreaction?
Jen Psaki: (22:34)
Again, I think the President believes that Israel has a right to self defense. Obviously, just if we take a step back and remove ourselves for a moment, which I know is hard to do from the politics. Clearly, what’s happening on the ground, the loss of life, the loss of children’s lives, the loss of family members lives, whether it’s Palestinian lives or Israeli lives is incredibly tragic. It’s horrific to watch. That is certainly why our focus is on deescalating what is happening on the ground. That’s our human reaction to what we’re seeing. What we’re also focused on, the President, many people on our team have been working on issues in the Middle East for decades. And what we also know is that sometimes these conversations need to happen privately in order to have an effective outcome and that’s what our focus is on. Go ahead Trevor.
Just to followup on that point. Do you feel that Israel is acting with sufficient restraint at this point?
Jen Psaki: (23:31)
Again, as the President conveyed in his statement, Israel has the right to self defense. Our focus remains on continuing to use every lever at our disposal to deescalate the situation on the ground. I think it’s also important to remind people, Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hamas does not represent the views, the families, the people who are suffering, all of the Palestinian people who are suffering as a result of this violence. But there’s no justification for 1,500 rockets coming from Hamas into communities in Israel either.
And do you welcome their participation in forthcoming elections, Palestinian elections?
Jen Psaki: (24:16)
Jen Psaki: (24:17)
Look, I will say that our focus right now is on using our relationships in the region, our deep relationships in the region, again, with the Egyptians, the Tunisians, others who have greater influence with Hamas then certainly we do and certainly others in the region do to deescalate the circumstances and the situation on the ground. That’s what our focus is on at this moment in time. Go ahead.
Jen, what does the CDC new guidance on masking mean for the President’s executive order mandating masks on federal property? Is he going to be rescinding that?
Jen Psaki: (24:52)
Well again, I think that the CDC guidelines were just put out, as you all know yesterday. They were determined by, decided by what they were going to be, what the specifics were, but also the timeline by the CDC, not by us, not by the white house, not by the President to be very clear. And we’re working to implement those across the government. As you’ve seen, yesterday, as soon as the guidelines came out, we got a note that came across our emails that said, “You don’t need to wear masks here anymore.” We talked to the White House Correspondents’ Association immediately and said, “Reporters don’t need to wear masks anymore, unless they choose to,” same for the American people, of course. So we’re working to implement, it may take a couple of days, but certainly I would expect on federal lands, federal properties that the guidelines will be the guide.
Got it. Republican senators said that yesterday’s infrastructure meeting was productive and it was cordial. So what are the next steps here? What have they agreed to do and by when, and is there a followup meeting scheduled at this point?
Jen Psaki: (25:52)
Well we agree. And I saw the President after the meetings yesterday. And you heard him talk about the meetings. Of course, when he gave his remarks about the masks and he agrees, they were constructive, they were productive. We expect a counter proposal back early next week by Tuesday is I think what they’ve committed to as well publicly, there will be discussions at a staff level, at a member level, from members of the white house team over the coming days as I think most of you would anticipate, and then we’ll be in touch from there. So I don’t have any next meetings to preview for you, but we have already been in touch with members. We’ve already been in touch with their teams, that will continue. Again, we expect the next piece to be a counter proposal by Tuesday.
And whose running point on this from the white house?
Jen Psaki: (26:39)
Well, it’s an across the white house effort Nancy, as you know. There are a number of officials involved depending on what the needs are, frankly, from members or staff. So of course, there are high level members of the team, everyone from Ron Klain to Steve Rachetti, Louisa Terrell Rema Doddin, Chris Slevin. I could keep naming names who have conversations all day long with members on the hill, with their staffs about what followup questions they have, what’s next in the process, where there’s opportunity for agreement. Where there are technical questions, those are happening all the time. But ultimately, there will also continue to be conversations at the level of the President and members of the Republican leadership and Republican committee chairs, as well as with democratic leaders.
And then, can I get your reaction to this report about unaccompanied minors being held in a park buses overnight. There was one child reportedly held for four days before being reunited with his family. What’s the administration doing now about this case? And when you say that you’re going to ensure that those responsible are held accountable, what does accountability look like?
Jen Psaki: (27:46)
Well, first let me say that the reports of children that you’ve referenced being held in buses outside of the HHS facility in Dallas for extended periods of time are outrageous. They’re unacceptable and they do not meet our standard for childcare. That is true for the President, it is true for the secretary of Health & Human Services. It is true for everyone involved across government. It’s being fully investigated, how we got to this point, how this possibly happened. There’s no excuse for this treatment. In terms of what the consequences will be, I just can’t predict that before an investigation is concluded. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (28:23)
Thank you. There are a lot of questions about the timing of the CDC’s announcement yesterday. So did somebody at the Biden administration or in the Biden administration update this guidance for political reasons?
Jen Psaki: (28:36)
Speaker 3: (28:37)
So what was the medical or scientific reason? What was the big breakthrough to do this yesterday?
Jen Psaki: (28:42)
Well, I know that Dr. Willinsky did an extensive number of interviews yesterday to answer exactly that question. But as we’ve talked in here quite a bit about the CDC, not just Dr. Willinsky, but her entire team of health and medical experts are constantly reviewing the data to ensure that they can provide accurate and up-to-date guidance to the American people. So based on three factors, as she talked about yesterday.
Jen Psaki: (29:05)
Vaccines work in the real world. We’ve seen a lot of studies done on that, including internally in the federal government. Vaccines stand up to the variance, which at various times has been a concern about the need to continue to mask even as you, after you were vaccinated and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus. That’s how they came to the decision and that’s what she conveyed yesterday when she announced the decision.
Speaker 3: (29:29)
But just looking at the CDC’s website on the way up here, only 45.6% of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated as of yesterday. Only 58.9% of the adult population has at least one dose. So what happened to President Biden saying in March that he thought lifting mask mandates before every adult American goes and gets a shot is Neanderthal thinking?
Jen Psaki: (29:52)
Well, first let me say that the President, our North star has been listening to the guidance of our health and medical experts and teams and that’s exactly what we’re doing in this case. And just to reiterate, the …
Jen Psaki: (30:03)
… what we’re doing in this case. And just to reiterate, the CDC, the doctors, and medical experts there were the ones who determined what this guidance would be based on their own data and what the timeline would be. That was not a decision directed by, made by the White House. The White House was informed of that decision, just to give people assurance of that.
Speaker 4: (30:20)
So does the president still think that these red state governors who were a little bit ahead of the federal government in lifting the mask mandates had Neanderthal thinking?
Jen Psaki: (30:30)
Well, again, I would say that even with this guidance that’s out there, the guidance is not telling states and localities exactly how they should implement. As you know, there are some localities and states in the country that have higher rates of vaccination than others, some communities that have higher rates of vaccinations than others. And we even know, as this is being implemented, that different localities, businesses will implement it in the way that they feel will help ensure their community is safe. But I know I am reassured by listening to the guidance of health and medical experts, not political decision-making. So that’s the point we’re at now.
Speaker 4: (31:07)
And my last one. Andy Slavitt said this morning that the White House found out the mask guidance was going to change at 9:00 PM the night before. Were you guys surprised that in the nine o’clock hour at 9:25, the CDC director was on CNN saying that the science wasn’t there yet?
Jen Psaki: (31:23)
I didn’t watch that interview. I can just tell you that a small number of … That we were informed the night before that they’d made a decision about the guidance. They planned to announce it the next day. And even here only a small number of people knew that that announcement was going to be made. Hence, if you were here yesterday, you saw kind of shock of people taking off their masks around the building. But it may have been at the point where they were not ready to make the announcement yet, but I point you to the CDC on their specific rollout plan. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (31:53)
Are you guys engaged in any discussions about changing the federal transportation mask mandate at this point?
Jen Psaki: (32:00)
Well, first I would say we’re continuing to review. Our health and medical experts are continuing to review the applicability and what is safe to do based on these guidelines, based on their new data. But I don’t have anything to preview for you on that front. We’ll continue to look to them for guidance on what is safe on an airplane or a train or anything like that.
Speaker 2: (32:22)
You talked a lot about this a couple months ago, but now that we’re kind of in a new place, is the decision not to pursue a federal vaccine passport policy, is that science-based? Is that you’re aware of the political dynamics here? What drove the decision behind that and is there any change to that decision now that we’re in a different place?
Jen Psaki: (32:38)
Sure. There’s no change to it. We are not currently considering federal mandates. We are instead focused on ensuring all Americans understand the benefits of vaccination, that we’re answering their questions, and that they have access to get vaccinated. We also understand that private sector companies may decide that they want to have requirements. That’s up to them to make that determination. If you are running a stadium, if you are a sports team or something like that, you have different considerations. We fully respect that, but we have no plans to change our approach from the federal government.
Speaker 2: (33:13)
And last one. Just kind of looking back, it’s been a bit of an interesting week.
Jen Psaki: (33:17)
It has been?
Speaker 2: (33:18)
A little bit. Is there ever a concern, and I understand that this is the deal when you’re the president of United States, but you guys spent the first hundred-plus days really laser-focused on vaccines and economic aid, that things like the reality of being president takes the focus off your agenda at a pretty crucial time legislatively?
Jen Psaki: (33:37)
So the president’s view is that this is exactly what he was elected to do, is to lead the country during a time of multiple crises. And he came into office, of course, facing both a historic pandemic and 10 million people out of work. He was already facing dual crises when he came in, but his view is that this is what the American people elected him to do. This is why he put together the team he put together, to be prepared in these moments. And the American people elected him to be prepared for whatever comes his way. Go ahead.
A quick one to follow on Phil, first, which I suspect will-
Jen Psaki: (34:20)
Jen Psaki: (34:22)
On the guidelines that are being updated from the CDC.
Jen Psaki: (34:25)
The question is about cruise ships and when or whether they’ll be able to sail from US ports. I assume you’re going to give us some more answer about how that’s still being looked through, but I am curious if you had any update on them specifically.
Jen Psaki: (34:39)
I don’t have an update. We certainly understand all the interests. And I will say that just like companies and businesses are digesting this, so are we in the federal government, and we are even here as it relates to how many staff will be on campus and when, when we can have a full briefing room. We’re eager to get back to a version of normal, but we need a little bit of time to implement it and also to review additional steps.
And then a couple on the infrastructure negotiations. I guess I’m trying to sort of fully understand what the president’s strategy is with his negotiations with Republicans. And it seems like, but I guess I’m asking you to share if I’m wrong, that he would be willing to go for a smaller, hard infrastructure deal with Republicans, and then maybe combine the remainder of it into a deal that he would push through with reconciliation with Democrats on the softer infrastructure and stuff that you guys have outlined. Is that the basic preferred approach in the White House at this point?
Jen Psaki: (35:44)
I know we like to get ahead of the legislative process, but there’s a lot that can happen in one day or one week or two weeks as you all know from covering this for some time. I will say the fundamentals are this. The president remains committed to all the ideas he has put forward. Investing in infrastructure, creating millions of jobs, ensuring that we can do more to support families across the country with childcare, giving additional benefits, he’s committed to all those ideas. There are a range of mechanisms for moving them forward. So yes, we’re having a discussion over the last several days that has been primarily focused on different options for hard infrastructure and we expect a counterproposal on that early next week. But again, there’s a range of ways to move these ideas forward. He’s quite open to them. We’re focused on this component at this moment, but we’re not going to get too far ahead of where we are in discussions with not just the Republicans, but a range of Democrats as well.
And then we’ve seen, obviously this week, some Republican governors pull back expanded unemployment benefits. It’s a key priority of the president’s in the first COVID stimulus bill. We saw with Obamacare also that some Republican governors didn’t opt into Medicare expansion, so it blocked benefit for … President Obama had saw it in those states. And so I’m wondering if that is at all causing you guys to reconsider elements, especially The Families Plan, things like community college tuition, the free pre-K program are all administered by states, so if there’s a worry that by essentially giving Republican governors, who’ve been vocal about disagreeing with the president, the key is to be his priorities whether … If there’ve been any lessons learned from what we’ve seen in the last few weeks.
Jen Psaki: (37:39)
Well, first, I would say that we don’t see in the data unemployment benefits as a major driver in bumpy jobs numbers, as you’ve heard many people say, so let me start there. Second, the investment in universal pre-K and extended community college, we don’t see as a partisan proposal. And in fact, if you look across the country, there are some states that you might consider red states that have done things like universal pre-K and have been quite successful at it. And these are investments in our view that are certainly, they have a semi short-term benefit, but more, they have a long-term benefit because kids who attended pre-K as opposed to daycare are 50% more likely to graduate from high school. So it doesn’t change our approach to that. It doesn’t change our view that in order to be more competitive over the long-term, these are key and vital investments.
Jen Psaki: (38:36)
And yes, it will need to be a partnership with the states, but we’ve also seen since then, to build on the Medicaid expansion, a number of quote-unquote red states have expanded because they see the benefit and they have seen how it has helped states. And we’re hopeful as we work through this and we talk to governors, they can recognize this is not a partisan proposal. It’s something that can help the next generation of workers be more competitive. Go ahead. [inaudible 00:39:01].
Speaker 5: (39:01)
Thank you, Jen. Republicans throughout this negotiating process this week have made clear that they’re not going to touch the 2017 tax cuts, which is a fundamental way that Biden wants to raise revenue. You’ve made clear that he’s not open to user fees. What other, in trying to understand where the compromise is, are there any other avenues that the president sees where he would be open to raising revenue?
Jen Psaki: (39:28)
Well, one of the proposals he made was having the IRS play more of a role in ensuring people are paying the taxes they owe. That’s one component. But I do expect there may be components and proposals that are put forward that are discussed in these private discussions that may not cross either of those lines. The bottom line for the president, as we have said, as I said already during this briefing, is that he’s not going to raise taxes for people making over $400,000 a year. So that’s not a place where he is going to budge. But he is open to a range of ideas, including ones he didn’t propose.
Speaker 5: (40:00)
Is that something he’s expecting them to come back with on Tuesday, is some sort of way to raise revenue that you can begin that discussion because it seems like most of the discussions have been absent of revenue raisers. It’s been-
Jen Psaki: (40:12)
We certainly expect that that will continue to be a part of the discussion. But what I think is important to remember here from our vantage point is that the positive sign is that there is agreement and the need to invest in infrastructure and modernize our infrastructure. What we were talking about is how to pay for it. That’s an important component and a part of the discussions. But the agreement on investing in infrastructure across Democratic and Republican leaders and the President of the United States is certainly a significant positive development. Yeah.
Speaker 5: (40:41)
Quickly, just on Israel. President Obama in 2012, sent Hillary Clinton to broker a cease-fire in Gaza. Is there any discussion in this White House of sending Tony Blinken this time around to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza?
Jen Psaki: (40:56)
Let me say that at this point in time, the step we have taken is we have a envoy, a deputy assistant secretary from the State Department who is over there playing a role engaging in working toward a lasting peace. We also have a great deal of trust and our team that is on the ground, led by career staff who have a great deal of experience in the region. And obviously, we’ll continue to evaluate what’s needed and how we can play a constructive role. But what I can tell you is that our engagement is extensive, it is deep, and it will continue behind the scenes, and that includes with Israelis and Palestinians. It also includes key leaders in the region who we think can play a constructive role in bringing us to a more peaceful outcome. Chris, go ahead.
What message is the president trying to send by having DACA recipients come here, and you have all these priorities, you obviously have the jobs and infrastructure, he’s put kind of a timeline down for the police reform bill, where does immigration rank in terms of what is the timeline he sees for getting that done?
Jen Psaki: (42:13)
Well, first, I think the president believes that DACA recipients are part of the American story and part of the fabric of who we are as a country and kind of what the American dream represents. So bringing them here is an opportunity to highlight that. And there has historically been agreement about the powerful stories of DACA recipients of the incredible contributions they have the potential to make in our country from Democrats and Republicans. He’s certainly bringing them here to highlight that. And as he said in his joint session address, he believes there’s an opportunity to move forward on areas where we agree. So let’s find areas where we agree on immigration reform. I will say it remains, he put forward a immigration bill, as you know, on his first day in office. He continues to advocate for that. He talked about it in his joint session speech, and he’ll continue to have conversations, and have his senior staff have conversations about how we can move that or components of that forward.
And we’ve …
Jen Psaki: (43:12)
That’s a very jarring phone ringing.
Obviously, you’ve seen this, the leadership purge in the House. I’m curious, has the president spoken with former Vice President Cheney?
Jen Psaki: (43:29)
I’m not aware of any call with former Vice President Cheney, no. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (43:33)
Yes. Does the White House think is going to help convince unvaccinated people to get their shots when they hear that it’s safe for the vaccinated to remove their masks, and can that be part of the sales pitch going forward to get vaccinated?
Jen Psaki: (43:44)
Well, it’s an interesting question, but I think one thing that’s just very important to make clear is that the CDC who has no role in determining how to get more people vaccinated or operationally, right, made this determination based on data and the advice of health and medical experts. If you move beyond that, it is now. Now that that guidance is out there, it is important for people to understand the benefits of being vaccinated and they can obviously make a choice that they will wear a mask or not. We’re going to operate with kindness as the president said yesterday, but it is something we will continue to talk about and continue to remind people that if they go get vaccinated, if they get those two vaccines, they may feel like it’s a pain in the neck, but there are benefits and we’ll keep talking about that, absolutely.
Speaker 6: (44:30)
Going back to unemployment insurance, a growing number of Republican governors, I think 16 at this point, have been opting out of the federal subsidies to unemployment insurance. What’s the White House’s position on that? Do they discourage more states from doing that?
Jen Psaki: (44:44)
Well, I would say that we certainly understand that governors and leaders are going to have to make a choice, make a decision in regard to unemployment benefits. But what’s important to remember and what we remind people of is that, again, we don’t see this as a major driver in preventing people from seeking employment and seeking work-
Jen Psaki: (45:03)
… in preventing people from seeking employment and seeking work. And actually what we see in the data to date is that the pandemic, not being vaccinated, that there’s been a massive increase over the last month in the number of people who were vaccinated in comparison with a month ago when the data was taken. Fears of not being safe, sometimes childcare and also the need to be paid a livable wage are all factors that are contributing.
Jen Psaki: (45:29)
And what we would also suggest. And I know someone asked this earlier, but is that many of these companies, big companies, let me say who benefited. Many of them made quite a profit during the pandemic and many of them also receive quite a bit of benefits, $1.4 trillion worth, could pay, could offer to pay a little bit more. And maybe that will incentivize more workers to come back into the workforce.
Speaker 7: (45:51)
And I have from Voice of America. Can you confirm plans for a virtual White House aid celebration announced by the Council on American-Islamic relations to be held on May 16th and will the president or vice president be there? And can you give any details or a message to Muslims on the celebration?
Jen Psaki: (46:04)
I know there are plans in the works. I expect we’ll have more details on that out. So let me venture to get that out after the briefing. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 8: (46:12)
With the new CDC guidance, will the president switch to in-person rallies on a big scale and there are more press conferences planned?
Jen Psaki: (46:23)
Well, look, I think we’re still figuring out how to implement it and how it will impact how we go about our daily work at the White House. And so far, we don’t wear masks in meetings. We’re all vaccinated. We don’t wear masks in meetings with the president, that has immediately certainly changed. But in terms of what it will mean for travel and the size of events, we’re not quite there yet.
Speaker 9: (46:47)
I just want a change in Republican House leadership. So many concerns have been expressed that this policy has become anti-democratic, that in particular if Republicans win back the House next year as historical trends suggest they’ve got a great chance that they would refuse to certify the results of a 2024 presidential election win if it was a Democrat. How worried is the president about that? Is it something he would talk to Republican leaders about?
Jen Psaki: (47:13)
I will tell you, the president has not spent much time worrying about the outcome of midterm elections that are a year and a half away, but what his focus is on is continuing to do the work of the American people, get the pandemic under control, put people back to work, look for opportunities of common ground to work, even with Republicans to get that done. And while the Republican Party may be having a bit of a identity crisis right now about who they are and what they stand for. He’s very clear about who he is, what he stands for and what he’s going to do as president. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (47:50)
Coming back to the Middle East, it’s getting more and more lost because what’s going on in Gaza, but everything started in Jerusalem. What is President Biden position of East Jerusalem? Is East Jerusalem on the table when the administration is speaking about variable two state solution?
Jen Psaki: (48:07)
Well, that is an issue that has long been and will always be a for discussion between two parties in a negotiation about the path forward. So I don’t have an additional position on it. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (48:21)
Thank you very much, Jen. I have a question about USA aid to Israel and to Gaza. First, 1,500 rockets from Gaza going towards Israel. The Iron Dome has taken down many, many rockets. That’s cost a lot of munitions. Is the US going to help Israel replenish the Iron Dome?
Jen Psaki: (48:43)
Well, I don’t have anything to preview in terms of additional assistance. I will say that we have an important relationship, partnership, strategic security relationship with Israel. As you know, we have provided a range of support over the last several years and even decades, including the Iron Dome, but I don’t have anything to preview in terms of additional support.
Speaker 11: (49:04)
You won’t commit to replenishing the Iron Dome?
Jen Psaki: (49:07)
You have anything to preview for you in terms of additional support. We’ve long been a supporter, both in terms of our partnership, but also our security assistance that we have provided to Israel. That’s been consistent. Nothing has changed in regard to that approach and I don’t expect it would moving forward.
Speaker 11: (49:24)
On April 7th, the State Department announced that it unlocked $75 million in economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. Is that being reviewed in light of the rocket attacks coming from Gaza to Israel?
Jen Psaki: (49:36)
No, that was humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. Again, Hamas is a terrorist organization. The Palestinian people are also suffering as a result of the actions of this terrorist organization and the rockets that they have launched into Israel. So no, the humanitarian assistance will of course continue.
Speaker 11: (49:58)
What next steps has President Biden taken to help deescalate the conflict?
Jen Psaki: (50:00)
Well, I went through this a little bit the other day, but let me go through some of it. First, as you know, the president obviously has had his own conversations, a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We’ve had dozens of high-level calls and meetings with senior US officials and with senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, our Arab partners and other stakeholders. Our national security advisor has spoken with his counterpart in Israel multiple times. We’ve had regular dialogue multiple times per day with Egyptian and [inaudible 00:50:31] officials. So we have been incredibly engaged at the highest level here from the federal government.
Jen Psaki: (50:36)
As you know, sometimes those conversations need to take place privately and we of course want to convey who we’re talking to and the messages we’re conveying, but we’re not going to read out every single conversation either.
Speaker 11: (50:51)
Is President Biden Just try to stay out of it?
Jen Psaki: (50:52)
I think what I just outlined makes clear that he’s asked his team to not only keep him updated and abreast of what’s happening on the ground, but to be deeply engaged with the Israelis, the Palestinians, and also with leaders and partners in the region to work toward a more lasting peace.
Speaker 11: (51:09)
When he said this week that it was going to be closing down sooner rather than later, what was the indication from his conversations with Netanyahu?
Jen Psaki: (51:15)
Well, that was certainly our hope. And obviously what happened, I think earlier this week is that assurances from Hamas that they were prepared to stand down prove to be false. And we certainly understand that that can happen in these conflicts, but we still need to stay at it and remain engaged with all of the parties in the region. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 12: (51:34)
Yeah, two questions for you. One, a couple of days ago, we saw the release of this year’s religious freedom report. And Secretary Blinken said that, “Religious freedom is no more or no less important than any other human right.” Why should the faith community not see that as a de-emphasis when the previous administration made religious freedom a top priority?
Jen Psaki: (51:53)
Well, I think it’s just how you look at what human rights are. I think what the secretary and I certainly send you to the State Department, but religious freedom, what he was saying is it’s incredibly important around the world and we’re going to work to protect that. And I think our US policies convey that, but as is the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression. That the role of the State Department, when they put out this report, any report is certainly to convey what our values are from the United States and what we’re going to convey as we engage diplomatically around the world.
Speaker 12: (52:30)
And what do you say to those who are criticizing the president and vice president who have not to date made an in-person visit to the southwest border?
Jen Psaki: (52:35)
Who are those? Who are those?
Speaker 12: (52:37)
Those who have criticized.
Jen Psaki: (52:38)
Speaker 12: (52:38)
There have been lots of people criticizing the fact that they’ve not made a trip to the border yet.
Jen Psaki: (52:43)
Speaker 12: (52:44)
Criticism from those in the Republican Party, criticism from others.
Jen Psaki: (52:50)
Well, I don’t know who I’m responding to, but what I will say is that the president’s focus and the-
Speaker 12: (52:54)
Just the other day, one of the senators held a press conference where that was a major criticism, the fact that-
Jen Psaki: (53:00)
One of the senators. Okay, well, the president [crosstalk 00:53:03]. Senator Rick Scott. Okay, well, the president’s focus and the vice president’s focus is on solutions. And what we’ve seen over the past several months is that while we came in and there was little preparation for what was going to be a surge of migrants at the border, what we’ve done since then is rapid or has massively reduced the number of children who are at border patrol facilities from over 5,000 to under a thousand, the number’s probably even lower than that now. And massively reduced the number of hours that these children are spending in these facilities.
Jen Psaki: (53:41)
So our focus is on working through the interagency process, pressing to eliminate bureaucracy, and making sure that we’re taking steps that treat them in a humane and moral way. And we’re less worried about press conferences or political games that are being played by some. Thanks everyone. Oh, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. Okay, hello. Well, we have a special guests as we like to do on Fridays. So [inaudible 00:54:08] nice to meet you. That’s a beautiful name from the state. How can we help you?
Speaker 13: (54:14)
Thank you so much for this opportunity. In South Carolina, we’re looking at another incident of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. This time a man named Jamal Sutherland who had reported mental health issues and he died in a Charleston County jail earlier this year after he was repeatedly tased by corrections officers, a video became public last night.
Speaker 13: (54:35)
For many in South Carolina, it’s underscoring the need for police reform even for those who work inside jails and prisons, especially when dealing with people who have mental illnesses. How engaged has the president been in those police reform talks and when does he hope to see a final package comes to fruition?
Jen Psaki: (54:52)
Well, thank you for your question. Let me first say that, we of course, have closely watched and are very aware of the case that you’re referring to in South Carolina. I know it’s been a dominant issue over the last several days or longer there. I can’t speak to the specifics of it given there’s an investigation. But what I can say is that the president’s focus and belief is that police reform is long overdue. That far too often, communities of color are living in fear and are exhausted by the threat and the possibility of being in harm’s way. And they should not feel that way.
Jen Psaki: (55:31)
He has set a timeline that he would like to see the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act pass by May 25th, which is also the anniversary of his death. The negotiations and discussions are happening now with one of your home state members, Senator Tim Scott, along with Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Karen Bass. They’re having discussions. Those are ongoing and he is hopeful and looking forward to having a bill to his desk so he can sign it into law.
Jen Psaki: (56:00)
But we are very engaged with them and keep abreast of the discussions, but we are leaving it to them to have a lot of the negotiations among themselves, among members. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining us in the briefing room today. Okay, thanks everyone.
Speaker 14: (56:15)
Speaker 15: (56:15)